Every ecosystem takes steps to curb species that over-proliferate. Those with long arms who continuously eat more than their fair share are always brought to justice and pay a hefty population price. As the population of the species explodes, alarms go off. The ecosystem senses a bottleneck in the food chain, an expanding bulge, like a cancer. A mysterious new predator sooner or later appears, able to consume this bulge, unblock the food chain, and allow resources to flow freely again. A heavy cull on the rogue species is inflicted, allowing its molecules to be recycled back into the food chain where they belong.
In fact, each species becomes both predator and prey, so that any bulges or breakages in the food chain are avoided. This system prevents extinctions, as well as the rise of super-predators. It is for this reason that, after 3.8 billion years, 8 million species have evolved on this planet. Earth’s ecosystem is the most tolerant, diverse, and egalitarian democracy that we will ever know. All species, however different from each other, share their molecules directly back into the same common nutrient pool, one circular food chain, where all life forms originate, and where they all return to die.
Despite this, humanity has managed to evade the laws of the food chain and climb to a staggering 8 billion-strong population that has already destroyed a large part of the ecosystem. Through its destruction of the climate and habitats, humanity represents an existential threat to the entirety of Earth’s ecosystems. We are in fact such a toxic species, that our impact would be felt even long after our disappearance. When most life forms go extinct, they completely surrender their molecules to Earth’s nutrient pool. If humans go extinct however, they will leave behind plastic trash and radioactivity. Even if we were to vanish tomorrow, plants would still grow deformed in abandoned nuclear sites. Fish and birds would still be choking on ingested plastic, tens of thousands of years into the future. There is a real possibility that, even if we were to disappear today, we could still be making species extinct well into the future.
Earth has tried many times to cull humanity: be it through viruses, bacteria or other predators it has thrown at us, in the hope that our population would dwindle down to a manageable level that is of little threat to the rest of the food chain. This war continues, and nature is not prepared to surrender its weapons. Even an organism as small as a virus, barely visible to the naked eye and without even a cell membrane, can potentially defeat an advanced civilization. The most lethal, targeted, and devastating biological weapons are not in the hands of humans. They are under Earth’s possession, and she will use them whenever and however she sees fit. These weapons are continuously updated in the biggest biological weapons laboratory that exists: Earth’s ecosystem.
Nothing stands in the way of an angry, betrayed planet. We are nothing but a house of cards in the wind. Human authority is a myth. The only authority and power on this planet belongs to the forces of nature.
But Earth hasn’t even made use of its biggest weapon yet: turning us against ourselves. Humanity is a very special, rare type of super-predator: one that is self-destructive. The more successful a predator is, the more likely that they will go extinct by their own hand. Self-destruction lurks like a chronic disease: fully detectable, yet benign enough to continue its slow advance without raising the alarm. Its power lies not in its intensity, but in its persistence. Self-destruction follows a lazy, incremental progression, building its crescendo under the cover of night. It advances slow enough to fool its victim into believing that there is plenty of time to act, yet never rests: the direction of travel is consistent, and irreversible. By the time “urgent” action is needed, it is already too late.
Self-destruction is almost impossible to stop because it is perpetrated by the self. It is an autoimmune disease where the victim is also the perpetrator. It requires an unusually strong person to stand up to themselves, just like a drug addict whose brain is hijacked by a chemical. In most cases self-destruction continues its dirty work unabated, even as warning signs become starker, louder, impossible to ignore.
Unable to accept that they have lost control, narcissistic predators desperate to save face will embrace their own self-destruction as inevitable. This defeatism brings about a huge emotional relief. Others will choose denial, retreating into a made-up world which they can visit anytime. They will often alternate perpetually between denial and defeatism but will never dare to venture into the realm of fact-checked truth.
Some predators will even claim that they consciously chose their self-destruction, convincing themselves that they are still in control. But they have merely surrendered to the scenario that requires the least amount of effort: death. This morbidly narcissistic, consciously unconscious path to self-destruction brings about a liberating, yet lethal euphoria to the predator. They do indeed feel like they are in control, despite living their most stupid moment. They embrace “living like there is no tomorrow”, before realizing that they have denied themselves the chance to live another day.
Humanity’s highly addictive, greedy and narcissistic nature makes it a prime victim of self-destruction, defeatism, and denial. Evolution may not directly select for self-destruction, it does however select for traits that eventually lead to it: greed, intelligence, technological innovation, are the traits that help super predators achieve their meteoric rise to the top – as well as their own self-destruction. We have repeatedly proved that we can solve complex survival problems. Yet by all signs we are incapable of solving our own self destruction. The amount of sacrifice and revolutionary social transformation needed to save this planet from unimaginable tragedy can only become apparent if humanity goes through unimaginable tragedy.
One can argue that self-destruction is our natural fate, and the only long-term option that was ever on the table. If humans were to go back in time, they would have probably done everything the same. Why fix the world when it is much more profitable to smoke it? Why turn down the music when it is more fun to have a loud, raucous party? Humans will do what they have always done, which is to care about their immediate gratification and ignore all other beings, including their own children. We suffer from countless addictions and greed-motivated behaviors that prevent us from assuming the selfless, responsible, compassionate role that we need to play if we are to avert our own destruction. However smart we claim to be, we have failed to achieve escape velocity from greed, narcissism, denial and defeatism.
Hypocrisy is our biggest game. Ethics and ethical dilemmas become important to humans only when convenient: when they serve a specific economic, political or other benefit that caters to one of our many self-destructive addictions. Humanity has always chosen which traffic lights to obey and which to ignore, at will. We are brilliant at inventing myths and religions to justify our actions. If these myths are not convincing enough, we can always resort to defeatism.
In the end, the laws of physics and entropy determine our fate. Humanity is only a very small part of creation. It can scream and shout, throw tantrums and break things, but ultimately it is the creation that decides where the new balance lies, who stays, and who goes. All predators die when there is no one left to eat. All bullies are powerless when there is no one left to dominate.
George is an author, researcher, podcast host, chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , listen to his Spotify podcast George reads George, sign up for blog alerts below, or enjoy his books
One thought on “The Curse of the Self-Destructive Predator”
Our small minded overzealous selfishness, competitiveness, cleverness, shortsightedness, sense of insignance, and blind optimism seems to have seduced us into our collectively suicidal fate. A limited window of opportunity to escape that state of mind is the riddle to solve. Mission Impossible? Too Late? Wise up or die out? Love Rick